Another sprint stage after scenic riding, some memories from the past for Fabio Aru and all one day closer to the Alps.
Stage 2 Wrap: the early break went right away but Astana seemed upset to miss it and accelerated mid-stage before launching Alexey Lutseneko across the gap, all while behind the increased pace was seeing some riders dropped, including Arnaud Démare. The Kazakh’s counter-attacked worked and soon after joining the escapees he didn’t like the company and went solo. It was a big show of power but for uncertain purposes and he was reeled in with 10km to go.
The sprint finish featured a long straight road and was a contest of sprint trains and as congested as the approach to Howrah on a Monday morning. A year ago Nacer Bouhanni was duelling with Katusha’s Jacopo Guarnieri, now the Italian was working for FDJ and deftly shouldered Edvald Boasson Hagen out of the way to place Arnaud Démare in position. Démare launched his long sprint and duly won the stage. A sprint win but is he really a sprinter? His long sprint still suggests he can do more in the classics.
The Route: the longest stage of the week even if it’s only 184km. It’s downhill soon after the start but on a big wide road with a gentle gradient for the most part before a lumpy approach to Saint Félicien, famous to gourmets for a cheese now made across the region, famous to cyclos for the Ardéchoise ride across the region. They then take the same descent to Tournon exploited by Fabio Aru a year ago when he took a stage win but now it’s just a point on the way to the feedzone rather than a finish line but symbolically they cross the Rhone and the Alps start to loom.
There are two more climbs to tackle but nothing too hard, more 4-5% gradients for 2-3km even if the road keeps climbing well after the last marked climb.
The Finish: similar to yesterday’s stage, a long finishing straight but this time with a couple of obstacles, a roundabout by the 1km arch but unlike yesterday it’s totally flat.
The Contenders: Arnaud Démare (FDJ) looked convincing yesterday and has a strong team so why not again? To answer that he still benefited from some doors opening that slammed shut in the face of other rivals so Nacer Bouhanni (Cofdis) is probably his biggest rival in a straight speed contest to the line and his aero position helps. If he’s said to be off form then Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is riding and contending and the third pick. Among all the others there’s nothing to reassuring, Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) probably needs a spicier finish, the same for Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Ben Swift (UAE Emirates) but they could seize the moment. Coquard especially needs a win, he’s leaving Direct Energie but appears not to have signed a deal with a new yet and so his contract value is in play, in addition his departure upset team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau who initially ruled him out of the Tour de France team but he’s since said Coquard can ride… if he wins a stage this week. It’s today or Thursday.
Watch out for Pierre Latour, he’s a local for the finish. The route doesn’t suit but he’s a showman and on home soil and therefore irrepressible. He’s still labelled Pierre-Roger Latour in places, a mistake. If you want more reading on him then a recent piece in France’s Liberation is entertaining.
|Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni
|Coquard, Boasson Hagen, Swift
Weather: sunshine but the chance of a thunderstorm or downpour later on in the stage. If the weather stays nice there will be a top temperature of 21°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.20pm CET. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. Given the likelihood of sprint finish it should pay to tune in later on but there’s only an hour or so live so sit back and enjoy the helicopter shots of the Isère valley and the Vercors plateau that rises above the finish.